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In appreciation of the G.I. Bill

BY BEN COULTER
Western Carolina University
This past June marked the 77th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing the G.I. Bill into law. Officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the G.I. Bill was established to help veterans of World War II attend college. Since then, it has been responsible for tens of millions of veterans earning degrees, raising their family’s standard of living, and contributing to the local economy.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, Congress authorized additional funds for individuals who served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill includes payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for textbooks and supplies.
Tennessee has long been associated with a strong military presence, from the four active military bases in the state to the more than 430,000 military veterans who reside here. Military veterans make up about 8.3% of the state’s population, compared to 7.1% nationwide.
About 54% of students using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill nationwide attended public universities in FY2018, while 24% attended private schools, and 22% went to for-profit institutions.
According to a 2017 study from the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST) in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, 72% of veterans using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill have earned a postsecondary degree or were still enrolled at the time of the study. The remaining 28% either did not return to school following their last known term or withdrew during the term. Overall, the number of veterans using the G.I. Bill has declined in recent years.
The same study estimated that around 100,000 veterans using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill would be graduating annually in the foreseeable future. Of those graduates, about 40% will earn bachelor’s degrees, 25% associate degrees, 17% master’s degrees, 10% vocational education certificates, and 1.5% doctoral or postdoctoral degrees.
Among the most popular fields of study for students using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill are business, management, marketing, health professions, liberal arts and sciences, homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting, and related protective services. Veterans are also earning degrees in such high-demand majors as computer sciences, engineering and related fields, and education.
Even if they have the desire, many members of the military community face challenges in pursuing higher education. Among them are Reservists/National Guard members’ being activated in the middle of an academic term; most student veterans’ being nontraditional students with families and part- or full-time jobs; and veterans with service-connected disabilities requiring travel for treatment or appointments, which can take away from study time.
Another challenge is the predatory practices of some for-profit colleges that use high-pressure tactics to get veterans to use their G.I. Bill to pay for school, but then suddenly shut down or deliver a substandard educational experience.
As a regional director for Western Governors University’s Southeast region, I am proud that WGU has been named a Military Friendly® School for 11 consecutive years. Currently, about 17,000 students enrolled at WGU are affiliated with the military.
Most importantly, as a veteran of the United States Army, I was a beneficiary of the G.I. Bill, and I used it to earn a master’s degree from Western Carolina University and a doctoral degree from N.C. State. I strongly encourage all active-duty service members and veterans who qualify to take full advantage of the G.I. Bill.
(Ben Coulter, Ed.D., is the Southeast regional director for online, nonprofit Western Governors University and chancellor of WGU North Carolina, a state affiliate of WGU.)